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Chris Beaumont of FolkWrite

reviews John Playford's Secret Ball by Belshazzar's Feast

Two albums that could perhaps be described as English mock?baroque, since both have the rhythm and flair to suit the current dance scene, whilst at the same time taking much of their material and playing inspiration from music of the 17th and 18th centuries ? that time before the arrival of such innovations as the polka and the waltz. Both CDs also happen to feature the combination of fiddle and piano?accordion fairly prominently. The piano box is not, of course, a baroque instrument and I must confess my heart sinks sometimes when I come across rather lugubrious versions of Playford tunes by bands fronted by some huge 180?bass monsterl No such problems here, however, as both accordions are in the hands of wonderfully skilful players whose nimble and imaginative playing is a delight. Boxer number one (she also plays piano on a couple of tracks) is Becky Price, also to be found in the band Finality Jack. Here she is paired with the fiddle and 5?string fiddle of Blowzabellist Dave Shepherd. Their selection of tunes includes a number from the 18th and early 19th centuries, a couple of song tunes and three or four of their own compositions. While there are some quite complex arrangements, with a distinctly baroque feel, this is essentially an album of dance music, full of wit and rhythm. Much the same could be said of the offering from Belshazzars Feast: the box person is Paul Hutchinson, while Paul Sartin is on fiddle and oboe. Robert Harbron adds English concertina, guitar, mandolin and bassoon and William Balkwill plays trumpet. The concept is a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first edition of John Flayfords English Dancing Master, and most of the tunes are taken from this, with just three coming from later editions. Many titles will probably be familiar to dancers and musicians: Parsons Farewell, Jenny Pluck Pears, Cuckolds All In A Row, Gathering Peascods and others. If you like your Playford lively and dynamic, so that it really has to be danced to, give this a try. Interestingly, there are moments on both these albums that remind me of Michael Nymans score for The Draughtsmans Contract, a classic piece of pseudo-baroquery; perhaps he ought to start playing for